When you’re in the middle of a sweaty bed session and your heart is racing a mile a minute, sex can definitely feel like a workout. But is bumping and grinding the equivalent of spin class or yoga flow?
Unfortunately, sex is not the calorie torcher you might think it is. A small 2013 UK study actually looked into how a round between the sheets stacked up against 30 minutes of treadmill time. Turns out that sex burned an average of 3 calories per minute for women, and 4 calories per minute for men.
Each sex session in the study lasted between 10 and 57 minutes, meaning the maximum calorie burn for women was 177, and for men it was 239. Meanwhile, a half hour on the treadmill resulted in an average calorie burn of 213 for women, and 276 for men.
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In terms of calorie burn, having sex doesn’t deliver major results. Most people need to get their heart rate above 120 to really incinerate calories, Tom Holland, exercise physiologist and certified sports nutritionist, tells Health. So any lower intensity exertion (like sex) will burn more calories from fat, which is good, yet burn fewer calories overall, unfortunately.
But sex makes the cut as a solid fitness activity for another reason: it helps you build muscle—when you do it in certain positions, that is. “[Having sex] may not be burning a ton of calories, but you’re working your core,” Holland says. While your romp might not give you the results you want to see on the scale, you can make it more of a real workout if you experiment with positions that boost your strength and flexibility.
One super strength-building move? Woman on top. Being on top and balancing in a plank-like position “could really work the core and arms,” says Holland. Next time you’re feeling sexy, get on top of your partner, kneel over him, and bend forward, using your arms and core to stay stable in a modified plank position. Or try sex standing up, your arms stable and hands against the wall with your partner behind you, so you tone your arms, shoulders, and core.
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Experimenting with other bodyweight-type moves in the bedroom can help you reap the same results you’d see if you did them in the gym. Just be sure to not get so into it you do a move that could lead to common sex injuries. “Focus on the muscular and cardiovascular components,” says Holland.
Even the hottest, most pulse-pounding sex session won’t build a rock hard core or toned biceps. But you can count it toward a workout . . . just don’t stop going to the gym regularly too.